Incumbents coasted and a few plucky newcomers were winners in last night's elections in Orange County.
In the race for four seats on the Chapel Hill Town Council, the clear winners were current Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison, Councilwoman Sally Greene and two challengers in local pastor Maria Palmer and Duke University pathologist George Cianciolo.
In Carrboro, the three incumbents—Jacquelyn Gist, Randee Haven-O'Donnell and Sammy Slade—were the victors.
In Hillsborough, Jenn Weaver and Kathleen Ferguson won seats on the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners.
And in the race for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education, information technology specialist Andrew Davidson joined incumbents Michelle Brownstein and James Barrett in victory.
Meanwhile, Lydia Lavelle, Tom Stevens and Mark Kleinschmidt ran unopposed for mayor in Carrboro, Hillsborough and Chapel Hill, respectively.
In case there isn't enough negative publicity surrounding fracking, left-leaning nonprofit Environment North Carolina released its own report on the controversial drilling practice Thursday, dubbing the drilling an "environmental nightmare."
"In state after state, fracking polluted our air, water and landscapes," said Liz Kazal, a field associate for the Raleigh-based nonprofit. "If fracking is allowed in North Carolina, this is the kind of damage in store for waters like the Deep River."
The drilling, viewed as an economic boon by proponents despite its speculative job-creating numbers, has been dogged by claims that it's responsible for water and air pollution, as well as increased seismic activity. See a recent report that fracking wastewater is to blame for earthquakes in one Ohio town.
Environment North Carolina, which has long opposed the drilling, describes the report from its Research and Policy Center as the "first of its kind to measure the footprint of fracking damage nationally to date—including toxic wastewater, water use, chemical use, air pollution, land damage and global warming emissions."
Among the report's claims, the nonprofit says fracking is to blame for:
1. 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater in 2012
2. 450,000 tons of air pollution produced in one year
3. 250 billion gallons of fresh water used since 2005
4. 360,000 acres of land "degraded" since 2005
5. 100 million metric tons of global warming pollution.
Download Environment North Carolina's full report, which reads like a Stephen King novel for environmentalists, here.
State officials are currently crafting regulations for drilling in North Carolina, which could begin as soon as 2015.Sen. Mike Woodard, a Durham Democrat, gets in on the frack-bashing in Environment North Carolina's release. "The dangers detailed in this report reiterate that a few short months of energy are simply not worth jeopardizing our water, our air and our rural landscapes," Woodard said. "In short, fracking is a bad deal for Durham and for North Carolina."
Official estimates say North Carolina has enough gas to power the state for about five years. Drilling is most likely to take place in central portions of the state such as Chatham, Lee and Moore counties.
Check back with Indy Week for pending reactions from drilling supporters and opponents.
The N.C. House voted to override Gov. McCrory's vetoes of two bills Tuesday afternoon, following a very short discussion.
The House sustained House Bill 392, a bill requiring people applying for public assistance to undergo drug testing, in a 77-39 vote.
The House also sustained House Bill 786, a bill expanding the seasonal worker E-Verify system exemption from 90 days to nearly 9 months, in 84-32 vote.
The vote to override the gubernatorial veto of HB 392 came after bipartisan pleas to keep the veto in place.
Under the bill, people applying to receive welfare benefits (TANF) will be drug tested. In a "reasonable suspicion" clause that is particularly unfair, anyone with a criminal record from the last years three years will be subjected to a drug test before receiving benefits as well.
"This bill meets the definition of kicking a man while he's down," said Rep. Jim Fulghum, R-Wake, a Raleigh neurosurgeon.
Fulghum called the bill "unclear" and said that it unfairly punishes the poor.
Several House Democrats—including Rep. Valerie Foushee, D-Durham/Orange, Rep. Duane Hall, D-Wake, Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake and Rep. Deb McManus, D-Chatham—voted for the bill in session.
Republican representatives from rural counties had strong and contrasting feelings on the seasonal worker bill.
Gov. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, called the bill "a jobs bill for illegal aliens" and said that if the bill becomes law, North Carolina will become a "magnet" for illegal workers as it has been in the past. Cleveland urged his colleagues in the House to vote against overriding the governor's veto.
Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Franklin/Nash, said that the bill would "provide parity for North Carolina agriculture businesses, with outside businesses." Collins said that states use the longer E-verify exemption period and that North Carolina should do the same to remain competitive. He encouraged his colleagues to vote to override McCrory's veto.
House Speaker Thom Tillis said he will notify the Senate of the House decisions to override both vetoes, the only vetoes Gov. McCrory made this session.
The N.C. Senate session will commence Wednesday at 9 a.m.
Tsk, tsk, Thom.
The Carolina Mercury's Kirk Ross posted a fascinating story about the fundraising habits of House Speaker Thom Tillis, who is courting donors for 2014 U.S. Senate campaign.
As Ross notes, state lawmakers can't accept contributions for their state offices during a legislative session but they can raise money for federal offices, which is precisely what Tillis did—in the midst of the budget debate. Legal? Yes. Hinky? Also yes.
Ross names some big contributors to Tillis' Senate race, including DENR Secretary John Skvarla and several House members, Pat McElraft, Tim Moore and Chuck McGrady, according to federal election documents.
The INDY perused the documents as well and recognized the name of Raleigh attorney Tom Farr ($500). He is notable for his expertise in legislative apportionment and voting rights cases—on the side of Republicans—as the INDY's Bob Geary reported in January 2010.
In 2010, Farr was hired by the Republican majority of the Wake County school board, which at the time was under fire for drawing up new school assignment zones that faced a potential legal challenge by the NAACP.
Geary wrote: "Farr was lead counsel for some of the plaintiffs in Shaw v. Hunt, the 1990s case that landed North Carolina's gerrymandered congressional districts before the U.S. Supreme Court. A decade later, Farr represented the plaintiffs who overthrew a state legislative districting scheme in the N.C. Supreme Court.
"Drawing up districts, and defending them against challenges of racial bias under the federal Voting Rights Act, would be right up his alley."
And whaddya know? HB 589—the ominbus election reform bill deemed repressive, draconian and extreme by legal experts, political media and "regressive" by N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper—completely upended all notions of fair and equal voting protocols in North Carolina.
Tillis voted for HB 589.
Ross noted that two contributors, the National Finance Company, based in Little River, S.C., which is near the N.C border, gave $1,000; Century Finances' Ronald Smith kicked in $500.
That's important because Senate Bill 489 gave big breaks to the consumer finance industry, allowing it to raise the maximum loan amounts and the time limits of the loans. In other words, borrowers will have to pay more and for longer. Tillis voted for it.
Another prominent name in the news includes Julian White Rawl ($1,000) of Preston Development, which is trying to build a controversial 7,000-acre mixed use development, Chatham Park, near Pittsboro.
Sometimes a plate of cookies is not a plate of cookies, Gov. McCrory. Ask Blanche Taylor Moore.
There was plenty of outrage over McCrory's hollow—and sexist—gesture of handing a plate of cookies to women who were protesting in Raleigh over his signing of the abortion bill. But the Guv was only continuing a tradition of North Carolinians who hide agendas among the chocolate chips.
The bodies of her father, mother-in-law and first husband were exhumed and tests showed they suffered from arsenic poisoning. Although she faced an additional murder charges, the prosecution chose not to pursue those cases.
A made-for-TV movie, Black Widow Murders: The Blanche Taylor Moore Story, aired in 1993. It starred starring Elizabeth Montgomery of Bewitched fame.
Hat tip: Robb Kehoe
The Washington Post is reporting that the U.S. Justice Department intends to sue states to prevent them from enacting parts of new voting rights laws, including requiring specific forms of photo identification.
North Carolina could be one of those states if House Bill 589 becomes law.
All but one of the Triangle’s U.S. House members voted against a measure that would have curbed the National Security Agency's collection of telephone call records and data on people in the U.S.
The vote margin was narrow, 217—205 with the majority of House members rejecting a check on NSA's surveillance program. Among those in the majority were Republicans George Holding and Renee Ellmers and Democrats David Price and G.K. Butterfield.
Howard Coble, who represents the 6th District that includes parts of Durham and Orange Counties, did not vote. He is in a Washington, D.C. hospital recovering from hernia surgery.
Politico has an interesting analysis of how dissent over the spying program split both parties. Those in favor of curbing NSA’s power argue that it has overstepped its constitutional boundaries and is tantamount to domestic spying. Those against counter that the intrusions are necessary to fight terrorism.
Hands off your keyboards, North Carolina Republicans.
First Gov. Pat McCrory responded to a scathing New York Times editorial, published July 9, that criticized the Republican-dominated state legislature for the "grotesque damage" it is wreaking on North Carolina.
Now the N.C. GOP Chairman Claude Pope, a close friend of McCrory, has chimed in, penning open letter to the NYT editorial board.
It begins: "Thank you, New York Times. We southern hillbillies are always honored when the Old Gray Lady’s beacons of intelligence bestow their political wisdom from on high."
And it heads downhill—or is it down hillbilly?—from there.
"Why else would you be so serious about leaving the unemployed stuck in poverty, instead of helping them climb out of it by creating new jobs?" Pope writes.
Could these be the same unemployed people whose benefits were reduced or eliminated thanks to state Republicans?
He cites the state's "horrendous" high school drop out rates. Did Pope see that the rate hit a record low in 2011—2012?
And the double-digit unemployment Pope references was the byproduct of the 2008 Great Recession, during which 19 states, including North Carolina, recorded jobless rates of higher than 10 percent. But by January 2013, before the state GOP could really sink its teeth in, no states—not even the hillbilly Tar Heels—hit that threshold.
Pope rebutted the Times' contention that voter ID laws are being “rushed” through. They "have actually been in the works since January," Pope wrote. Yes, it's taken a long seven months to move one of the most pivotal pieces of legislation that could damage electoral democracy for years, even decades.
And he complained that the Times hasn't endorsed a Republican presidential candidate since Eisenhower in 1956. That means the newspaper did not endorse Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, Bush I and II, John McCain and Mitt Romney, none of whom met the Times' "elite editorial standards."
Millions of animals in factory farms live in horrific conditions, and a bill in the N.C. Legislature would make it harder to uncover abuse.
The NC Commerce Protection Act of 2013, among else, would create penalties for employment fraud. However, section one of the Senate Bill 648 is better known under some of its other names: an ag-gag bill and a whistleblower suppression bill. The measure targets people who go undercover to expose animal cruelty or food safety issues on farms across the state.
The bill comes after a 2012 undercover investigation by Mercy for Animals at a Butterball turkey farm in North Carolina that revealed workers beating birds with metal rods, stomping, kicking them and violently throwing them into cages. Widespread media reports show that many animals on industrialized farms —chickens, cows, pigs—spend their whole lives, prior to being slaughtered, confined in crowded cages or barns—far from the “cows grazing on fields of green grass” image that big businesses present.
After several committee hearings and changes, SB 648 still would outlaw making false statements on a job application in order to conduct undercover investigations. It would be a criminal offense, punishable by a minimum fine of $10,000 for a first conviction. All recorded material should be handed to law enforcement and not be distributed anywhere else. Instead of having the initial 24 hours to turn over evidence, the bill was tweaked to extend that time to 48 hours, which still raises constitutional issues. If you surrender the evidence, you may incriminate yourself, a violation of the Fifth Amendment.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Duplin, Johnston and Sampson counties, is a farmer and agribusinessman—the very industry under fire by these investigations. He explained that the new changes assure news media would not be prosecuted if they were to air footage obtained by an undercover investigator.
At the latest committee hearing on Tuesday, Matthew Dominguez, public policy manager of the Humane Society of the United States, warned that “if this bill is to pass in North Carolina, you are making a safe haven for unethical and illegal activity, you are going to see unscrupulous business practice happen and the reason it's going to happen is because there will be no way to blow the whistle on it. And that's exactly what the N.C. Chamber of Commerce and the poultry industry want.”
Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, Iredell and Rowan counties, used the 1992 Food Lion case as an example of why the bill is needed. Two reporters gone undercover as store employees documented workers repackaging spoiled meat—some of it chewed on by rats—for public consumption. Food Lion sued for fraud and trespass, and won, claiming the two reporters had submitted false information on their job applications.
A few other senators did question parts of Section 1, including Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake. “To limit what somebody could do with a videotape, not having anything to do with a trade secret, sounds unconstitutional. But you all haven't had a problem with passing unconstitutional bills in the past,” he said.
The bill still must pass the House and Senate before it can go to Gov. Pat McCrory for ratification.
Major news for frack-followers: A Duke University study published this week finds homeowners living near fracking wells may be at an elevated risk of drinking water contamination.
The study, performed by researchers at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment, analyzed 141 drinking water samples from water wells in northeastern Pennsylvania, prime fracking country.
According to the study, methane concentrations were six times higher and ethane concentrations were 23 times higher at homes within a kilometer of shale gas operations. Propane was found in 10 samples, all of them within a kilometer of fracking sites.
Robert Jackson, a study co-author and Nicholas School professor, suggested in a school statement that "poor well construction" may be to blame for the contamination.
“Distance to gas wells was, by far, the most significant factor influencing gases in the drinking water we sampled,” Jackson said.
While a previous Nicholas School study has found methane contamination near fracking wells, the new study is the first to link drilling with ethane and propane contamination, according to the statement.
All three gases are considered to be flammable with a risk of explosions. Methane is generally thought to be non-toxic, although propane and ethane can pose health risks, such as asphyxiation, in high concentrations.
The study is released as North Carolina lawmakers continue to debate the contents of Senate Bill 76, a bill that may ultimately authorize the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to begin issuing fracking permits in March 2015.